Utah Skies: Proxima Centauri Radio Waves?

Feb 13, 2021

Credit NASA Hubble Space Telescope

Over the last twenty years or so, astronomers have detected over 4,000 planets orbiting other star systems. Our Milky Way galaxy may have billions of planets orbiting other stars. It’s a goal to find earth-sized planets orbiting their stars in what is called the habitable zone, or that distance from their parent star where any water on the planet is liquid. 

SETI is a project that searches for radio waves coming from these types of planets. The discovery of such radio emitting planets would be strong evidence of intelligent life on that planet.

The Parkes observatory has detected a possible radio wave from a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun. Proxima Centauri is only 4.2 light years away and has two confirmed planets, one orbits its parent star in the star's habitable zone.

In mid-2019 a radio signal was detected by Breakthrough Listen using the Parkes radio telescope. This signal is broadcast at 982 megahertz, a very narrow band of the radio spectrum not used by earth-orbiting satellites and other spacecraft nor is this narrow band have any natural origins 

In order for it to become a candidate for extraterrestrial origins the signal must pass a number of tests to rule out terrestrial origins such as a repeatable signal.

A detailed report is due out in early 2021.

Although Proxima Centauri and its planets lie too far south to be seen from Utah it will be fascinating to learn if these radio waves are from Intelligent life or just a natural phenomenon.